Slow reaction to animal mutilations in London, Ont. allowed killer to escalate: criminologist

At least 17 dead and mutilated animals have been found in public places around the city, including the latest incident of a skinned and beheaded dog that was missing several of its organs. Many of the animals are found in groups and placed in specific patterns.

WARNING: This article contains graphic images

Criminologist Michael Arntfield believes the string of animal killings and mutilations are the result of one person. (Michael Arntfield)

The disturbing series of animal killings in London, Ont. have been escalating because authorities have been slow to react to the gruesome discoveries, says a criminologist who has been raising alarm about the case for two years. 

At least 17 dead and mutilated animals have been found in public places around the city, including the latest incident of a skinned and beheaded dog that was missing several of its organs. Many of the animals are found in groups and placed in specific patterns.

Michael Arntfield, a criminology professor at Western University, has been following the incidents and has contacted police and the humane society to alert them of what could be an extremely violent killer who could eventually turn to harming people.

"No one really has seen the bigger picture here — the 1,000-yard view — which suggests that someone is doing this to get off," he said. "They're enjoying the theatricality of it and the attention and the alarm that it's causing. It will continue exponentially until they're identified."

Early tips of adopted pets being mutilated

Arntfield said he first received tips through his website about someone adopting animals from the humane society and conducting "barbaric and disgusting rituals involving mutilation."

His team of researchers contacted the society and asked for records by filing a freedom of information request. The humane society refused to release any documents, saying the charitable organization does not fall under the provincial legislation.

But the steady trickle of tips about animal torture continued. 

"Some people were made aware of our inquiries … and soon started forwarding me photos … of other mutilated animals," he said. 

One of those photos were of at least seven mallards with snapped necks and beaks, and placed in what Arntfield calls an "odd" and "no doubt intentional" pattern. 

In addition to the 17 animals reported killed and mutilated in London, Ont., criminologist Michael Arntfield received this photo of several birds found with snapped necks and broken beaks. (Michael Arntfield)

Arntfield said there should have been an investigation when two mutilated coyotes were discovered in a sexual position along the Thames River bank on campus at Western University. 

The incident was reported to campus police, who contacted the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Ministry officers removed the dead animals, Artnfield explained, but the police were not contacted.

Judy Foster, executive director of the London Humane Society, which is an OSPCA affiliate, has been investigating the mutilation incidents as they learn about them.

She said the humane society reached out to the Ministry of Natural Resources as soon as they learned about the coyotes.

Because the humane society had never seen this type of killing before, they lacked the experience to know whether the early incidents of animal mutilation warranted a major reaction, Foster told CBC News. 

"Honestly we have been so fearful about ringing the alarm bells inappropriately. You don't want people to be scared for no reason," she said. "Maybe it's a sense of disbelief, it's hard to believe this is happening."

The condition of some of the remains also made it difficult to determine what had actually killed them.

"In two of the situations London police were contacted first, so I would say the police have also been involved," she said.

Police launch investigation

London police launched an investigation into all the killings this week. Spokeswoman Const. Sandasha Bough confirmed that previously police had only received reports of two killings — the two coyotes from 2015 and the latest skinned and beheaded dog.

"As of right now, we have assigned an officer to this file and we're going to be looking into it further," she told CBC News. "We only knew about the two cases. We need to look into those other cases."

A skinned and beheaded dog that was missing several of its organs was found near this Beer Store location in London, Ont. (Google Maps)

Arntfield said similar incidents in the U.S. would be flagged and investigated right away because people exhibiting this type of behaviour tend to escalate to more violent crime — often toward people.

"It's sort of a dress rehearsal for other semi-sexual or violently sexual acts committed against, either other species or humans," he said. "Law enforcement in the U.S. is required to report these incidents to the FBI … knowing full well that it serves as a distant early warning for more serious offences."

While the coyotes were placed in a sexual position, the other dead animals have been found placed in specific patterns, like circles or semicircles, said Arntfield.

"A lot of organization and thought have gone into these," he said. "Someone has taken the time to elaborately pose these animals."

Killer likely acting alone

Arntfield suggests the killings are being done by one person, likely a male, based on the data and profiles of similar cases.

"It would border on statistical impossibility that two or more people in the city the size of London would find each other with a shared paraphilic interest in this and would agree to carry these out," he said.

Foster said she is deeply disturbed by all of the acts of animal mutilation. She sees the move from wildlife to domestic animals as an example of escalation.

"They're arranged as if they're being set up for people to find," Foster said. "Without exception the animals are being left in places where they're going to be found and going to be found very easily."

Arntfield also says the killings are becoming more gruesome and elaborate.

"'But when [the animals] keep showing up — new species, increasingly elaborate designs, increasingly severe mutilations — there's no doubt this person is escalating."